Whistling in the Wind

Just about every place where you can find information about emergency preparedness, from FEMA to the New York Times, you'll find mention of a whistle. I carry one in all of my first aid kits, and I recommend them as well, but I wanted to learn a bit more about why they are so ubiquitous. 

The Whistle Shop indicates that they've been around for about 5000 years, and according to the American Whistle Company, the familiar sound is made because "air enters the whistle at one end. As the air reaches the other, closed end, all the air molecules "pile up" on top of each other and cause a high-pressure region. The air escapes out the little hole in the end, making the noise you hear."

Humans can make the noises, and The physiology of oral whistling: a combined radiographic and MRI analysis describes "Experimental models support the hypothesis that the sound in human whistling is generated by a Helmholtz resonator, suggesting that the oral cavity acts as a resonant chamber bounded by two orifices, posteriorly by raising the tongue to the hard palate, and anteriorly by pursed lips (Henrywood RH, Agarwal A. Phys Fluids 25: 107101, 2013)."

I honestly felt it was enough to know that people smarter than me are studying the physics and physiology of whistling, but if you want to geek out more, you can get all of the flow dynamics equations, and more, here

Personally, I'm no good at all at whistling, whether with fingers in the mouth, or thumbs over an acorn top, loud whistling is not in my skill set--which is probably one of the reasons I've always felt better with my trusty plastic friend. 

But again, regardless of my ability to whistle or not, why are they always recommended?

I had often heard that whistles can heard better, and farther than yelling, with less work for the whistler/screamer, but the distance that any sound travels can be limited by many factors. 

Whistle For Life notes that "If you need to grab someone’s attention and are only equipped with the sound of your own voice, you realistically would be able to reach a maximum volume of 110dB for about ten minutes. But at that level, you will quickly lose your voice. However, if you were equipped with some type of signaling device, such as a safety whistle, you could easily increase your sound level and reduce the amount of energy you exert."

Boss Horn says that whistle sounds can "reach a distance of around 1 to 2 kilometers," but that distance can be affected by the quality of the whistle, obstructions, and atmospheric conditions. To say nothing of the hearing capacity of the intended recipients. 

If you do ever find yourself in a situation where you need to use a whistle to get help, yes, you can just make noise to get people's attention, but there ARE International Whistle CodesThree blasts of the whistle is an international distress call, which is loosely translated to “Help me!” Two blasts of the whistle is a call-back signal which means “Come here.” One blast can mean “Where are you?” or it can be a call-back signal if you hear anything that sounds like a code.

So you can see, there's more to than the ability to confuse nearby birds and dogs. 

Bottom line, whistles can be loud, cheap, light, and their batteries never run out. I think they'll be around in our emergency kits and first aid kits for a bit longer. 

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